A creative collective's journal is a fresh take on reality, writes Clare Tyrrell
The white van races out of the congested streets of Central and over the hills to Deep Water Bay. Wedged in the vehicle are the minds behind Robot magazine. There's the tall Englishman Jay Forster, the creative director, and T - aka Tereza Tan - the art director who hails from Singapore. On her lap is the magazine's editor-in-chief and today's cover model, Daniel Burns. He's licking his stomach.
Since they formed as a collective of artists, DJs, designers and performers in 1996, Robot have spent the past eight years bringing the throbbing sounds of techno into Hong Kong's clubs. In May, they launched a free, bi-monthly magazine, featuring fashion shoots involving well-known characters of the Central music scene, cultural articles, music interviews and sheer nonsensical creative outpourings. The first issue featured 'Prawnzilla', the electro-punk DJ Sean The Prawn, wearing Evisu and Diesel clothes while demolishing Hong Kong streets on a Godzilla-esque rampage. 'They are more like a rock band than a magazine,' muses one reader.
This morning, as we set out on the fashion shoot for the fourth issue - 'the Hong Kong issue', which will be launched tomorrow night at Yumla with DJs including Forster, aka Jay Pelmet, and other Robot regulars such as Kid Cal, Oakey and special guest DJ Nipper - things are appropriately surreal. For starters, editor Daniel Burns is actually a small dog. 'Daniel Burns, aka 18th-century mullet pioneer, aka the dog,' introduces Forster. 'We're just combining walking the editor with the fashion shoot.'
Creating havoc in public is part of the Robot philosophy. In July, for the 'Trojan Horse' article, six warriors dressed in gold-sprayed cardboard armour took a model of a life-sized horse around famously air-tight clubs and bars of Hong Kong, such as Dragon-i, Drop and Jewel.
'Our plan was to infiltrate these places using the Trojan horse as a kind of decoy,' says Forster. 'For most of the clubs it's as if they didn't even see the horse. They said, 'No, you're not coming in' based on our dress sense rather than the fact that we had a horse with us.' The performance was documented by an amusing photo story in the style of British magazine Viz.
Today, the situation is no less bizarre. Joining the dog for the shoot, that will take the crew from the sea to the Peak and the depths of Kowloon, is Debbie the mannequin. 'We're playing on her character,' says Forster. 'She's stiff and made of plastic. Which relates to the Hong Kong issue: the fact that when people live in cities, they may lose a part of themselves, by being surrounded by technology and concrete.'
We pull into a car park at Deep Water Bay and Forster and T immediately jump into action. When they move onto the beach it's like a military operation. They move in silently, barely batting an eyelid when the dog is promptly banished from the sand by a pack of confused lifeguards. Debbie is placed against a bin to the right of a sunbathing swimmer, who wakes up with a look of sheer horror. Forster captures Debbie in a mad Manga-esque scene with a tower showing the temperature looming behind.
Robot's self-ridiculing, infectiously creative energy is injecting a breath of fresh air into Hong Kong, where most magazines seem to arise as a means to make money through advertising. Robot are simply doing it because they enjoy it. 'It's about having fun,' says Forster. 'You get a really happy glow from doing something just for the hell of doing it.'
Robot magazine No4 launch party, tomorrow, 10pm, Yumla, free. Inquiries: 2147 2382